Awards and Honors, Collections and Resources, Southern Historical Collection, Special Collections

Penn Center Honors UNC for Care of Penn School Papers

Photograph of award ceremony

John Smalls (right), chair of the Penn Center Board of Trustees, presents the Center's 1862 Circle award to Tim West, curator of the Southern Historical Collection. (Photo: Bob Sofaly)

The Penn Center of St. Helena Island, S.C., has named the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a member of its 1862 Circle. The Center presented the award on April 29 to recognize the University’s stewardship of the Penn School papers at the Southern Historical Collection in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

The Penn School began in 1862 as an experimental program to educate and provide services to thousands of African Americans who had been freed by U.S. troops early in the Civil War. The Center today preserves and serves as a resource for the history, culture, and environment of the Sea Islands.

The Center deposited the Penn School papers with the Southern Historical Collection in 1962. The collection contains more than 32,000 letters, journals, and official documents from the school’s history. The diary of Laura Towne, a Philadelphia abolitionist and one of the school’s founders, is among them.

The collection also includes approximately 3,000 photos, some dating to the 1860s. Oral history interviews and later documents relate to the Penn Community Services Center, which opened in 1948 after the school closed.

“The Penn papers document a groundbreaking effort to help newly freed people,” said Tim West, curator of the Southern Historical Collection. “Eventually, it became an effort of the people themselves. Researchers use these papers to study topics ranging from the Gullah culture of the region, to African American education, to race relations.”

As part of its citation, the Penn Center recognized the ongoing active partnership that it maintains with UNC. As a result of these efforts, more than 10,000 pages of the Penn School papers are now available online through the Southern Historical Collection.

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